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Книга Imperium. Содержание - Roll XII

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After a moment of shock, a terrible groan of disappointment broke from the crowd, and Gabinius darted to the front of the rostra, where Pompey was standing impassively.

“This cannot be permitted! Pompey the Great was not born for himself alone, but for Rome!”

Of course, the line provoked the most tremendous demonstration of approval, and the chant of “Pompey! Pompey! Rome! Rome!” bounced off the walls of the basilicas and temples until one’s ears ached with the noise. It was some time before Pompey could make himself heard.

“Your kindness touches me, my fellow citizens, but my continued presence in the city can only impede your deliberations. Choose wisely, O people of Rome, from the many able former consuls in the Senate! And remember that although I now quit Rome altogether, my heart will remain among your hearths and temples forever. Farewell!”

He raised his roll of papyrus as if it were a marshal’s baton, saluted the wailing crowd, turned, and trudged implacably toward the back of the platform, ignoring all entreaties to remain. Down the steps he went, watched by the astonished tribunes, first the legs sinking from view, and then the torso, and finally the noble head with its crowning quiff. Some people standing close to me began weeping and tearing at their hair and clothes, and even though I knew the whole thing was a ruse, it was all I could do not to break into sobs myself. The assembled senators looked as if some immense missile had dropped among them-a few were defiant, many were shaken, the majority simply blank with wonder. For almost as long as anyone could remember, Pompey had been the foremost man in the state, and now he had-gone! Crassus’s face in particular was a picture of conflicting emotions, which no artist ever born could have hoped to capture. Part of him knew that he must now, at last, after a lifetime in Pompey’s shadow, be the favorite to seize the special command; the shrewder part knew that this had to be a trick, and that his whole position was threatened by some unforeseen jeopardy.

Cicero stayed just long enough to gauge the reactions to his handiwork, then hurried around to the back of the rostra to report. The Piceneans were there, and the usual crush of hangers-on. Pompey’s attendants had brought a closed litter of blue and gold brocade to ferry him to the Capena Gate, and the general was preparing to clamber into it. He was like many men I have seen immediately after they have delivered a big speech, in the same breath both arrogant with exhilaration and anxious for reassurance. “That went extremely well,” he said. “Did you think it was all right?”

“Superb,” said Cicero. “Crassus’s expression is beyond description.”

“Did you like the line about my heart remaining among the hearths and temples of Rome forever?”

“It was the consummate touch.”

Pompey grunted, highly pleased, and settled himself among the cushions of his litter. He let the curtain drop, then quickly pulled it aside again. “You are sure this is going to work?”

“Our opponents are in disarray. That is a start.”

The curtain fell, then parted once more.

“How long before the bill is voted on?”

“Fifteen days.”

“Keep me informed. Daily at the least.”

Cicero stepped aside as the canopied chair was hoisted onto the shoulders of its bearers. They must have been strong young fellows, for Pompey was a great weight, yet they set off at the double, past the Senate House and out of the Forum-the heavenly body of Pompey the Great trailing his comet’s tail of clients and admirers. “‘Did I like the line about hearths and temples?’” repeated Cicero under his breath as he watched him go. “Well, naturally I did, you great booby-I wrote it!” I guess it must have been hard for him to devote so much energy to a chief he did not admire and a cause he believed to be fundamentally specious. But the journey to the top in politics often confines a man with some uncongenial fellow passengers and shows him strange scenery, and he knew there was no turning back now.

Roll XII

FOR THE NEXT TWO WEEKS there was only one topic in Rome, and that was the pirates. Gabinius and Cornelius, in the phrase of the time, “lived on the rostra”-that is, every day they kept the issue of the pirate menace before the people by issuing fresh proclamations and summoning more witnesses. Horror stories were their speciality. For example, it was put about that if one of the pirates’ prisoners announced that he was a Roman citizen, his captors would pretend to be frightened and beg forgiveness. They would even fetch a toga for him to wear, and shoes for his feet, and bow whenever he passed, and this game would go on for a long time, until at last, when they were far out at sea, they would let down a ladder and tell him he was free to go. If their victim refused to walk, he would be flung overboard. Such tales enraged the audience in the Forum, who were accustomed to the magical incantation “I am a Roman citizen” guaranteeing deference throughout the world.

Cicero himself did not speak from the rostra. Oddly enough, he had never yet done so, having decided early on to hold back until a moment in his career when he could make the maximum impact. He was naturally tempted to make this the issue on which he broke his silence, for it was a popular stick with which to beat the aristocrats. But in the end he decided against it, reasoning that the measure already had such overwhelming backing in the streets, he would be better employed behind the scenes, plotting strategy and trying to tempt over waverers in the Senate. For this reason, his crucial importance has been frequently neglected. Instead of the fiery public orator he played the moderate for a change, working his way up and down the senaculum, listening to the complaints of the pedarii, promising to relay messages of commiseration and entreaty to Pompey, and dangling-very occasionally-half offers of preferment to men of influence. Each day a messenger came to the house from Pompey’s estate in the Alban Hills bearing a dispatch containing some fresh moan or inquiry or instruction (“Our new Cincinnatus does not seem to be spending much time plowing,” observed Cicero with a wry smile), and each day the senator would dictate to me a soothing reply, often giving the names of men it might be useful for Pompey to summon out for interview. This was a delicate task, since it was important to maintain the pretense that Pompey was taking no further part in politics. But a combination of greed, flattery, ambition, realization that some kind of special command was inevitable, and fear that it might go to Crassus eventually brought half a dozen key senators into Pompey’s camp, the most significant of whom was Lucius Manlius Torquatus, who had only just finished serving as praetor and was certain to run for the consulship the following year.

Crassus remained, as always, the greatest threat to Cicero’s schemes, and naturally he was not idle during this time, either. He, too, went around making promises of lucrative commissions, and winning over adherents. For connoisseurs of politics it was fascinating to observe the perennial rivals, Crassus and Pompey, so evenly poised. Each had two tame tribunes; each could therefore veto the bill; and each had a list of secret supporters in the Senate. Crassus’s advantage over Pompey was the support of most of the aristocrats, who feared Pompey more than any other man in the republic; Pompey’s advantage over Crassus was the popularity he enjoyed among the masses on the streets. “They are like two scorpions, circling each other,” said Cicero, leaning back in his chair one morning, after he had dictated his latest dispatch to Pompey. “Neither can win outright, yet each can kill the other.”

“Then how will victory ever be achieved?”

He looked at me, then suddenly lunged forward and slammed his palm down on his desk with a speed that made me jump. “By the one which strikes the other by surprise.”

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